Republicans Trying To Cut Unemployment Benefits In Florida
Democratic challenges and amendments, primarily from representatives from South Florida and Orlando, failed as the Republican-controlled committee voted to advance the bill.
Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, succeeded also with an amendment adding a clause to the bill that would retain other elements of the bill should it be challenged in court or by federal regulators. Ultimately, the U.S. Labor Department must certify any state's law that changes unemployment compensation.
Opponents to the bill also raised constitutionality issues, but mainly asked legislators not to deny six weeks of benefits and make it more difficult for Florida's unemployed to qualify for benefits.
Karen Woodall, an advocate for the unemployed through the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, urged the committee not to address business climate issues "on the backs of the unemployed." She said reducing state unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 was "unconscionable."
Holder argued that the bill would improve Florida's business climate to attract new business because employers would have to pay fewer weeks of unemployment. He said the goal was to replenish the state's broke unemployment insurance trust fund.
Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, questioned how the bill would replenish the trust fund, saying figures in the bill showed that even with the changes the trust fund would ramain at a zero balance through 2020. Holder responded that employers would pay about $18 less an employee for unemployment insurance through the bill.
Randall Webster, who said he was unemployed after a career working in affordable housing and related work, also urged the committe not pass the bill. Webster testified that he and about 25 friends also without jobs have been "diligently trying to find work, but "the jobs are not out there."
The bill now heads to the floor of the Florida House where it will be heard during the upcoming 2011 Legislative Session. A similar bill -- but one that doesn't reduced the weeks of benefits, is being considered in Florida's Senate.